Earlier this month, The New York Times announced the coming of a "double dip recession:" The United States economy seems to be approaching a financial danger zone for the second time since December 2008. That means the penny pinching is going to continue well into the foreseeable future. And when it comes to saving money, many of the sacrifices we usually make have to do with leisure travel.
But for those of you watching the summer breeze by without so much as considering a trip, we have good news for you: Bargains lie in wait for those who look closely. U.S. News Travel has teamed up with Hotwire.com to show you how to take advantage of these last weeks of summer.
While planning a vacation that meets both your taste and budget, Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, suggests you focus less on a particular destination and more on the general experience. Narrow down a vacation type -- city, beach, et cetera -- and then start your search for locales with the best prices. "You can get a similar experience in so many different ways," he explains. "If you see a good deal, book it. It is always best to nab a great discount before it is gone."
To help get you started, we've compiled a list of seven destinations that are cheap now. These vacation spots have shown the most significant drop in airline and hotel prices since this time last year, according to Hotwire's Year-Over-Year pricing analysis.
Note: The average prices listed below and in the accompanying slideshow were calculated by Hotwire based on its analysis of all hotels and flights available for each destination.
[See a photo recap of 7 Places that are Cheap Now]
Family-friendly Orlando is a regular front-runner on Hotwire's Travel Value Index (which annually evaluates cities based on their rates, available "discounts, affordable entertainment and overall appeal"). While pricey Disney World is the main attraction, Orlando does feature a variety of cheaper -- and even free -- attractions. O-Town's hotel and airfare rates haven't dropped since this time last year, but the city's already low prices continually allow thrifty travelers to stretch their vacation budget. And as the new school year draws nearer, more deals become available for last-minute getaways.
For more savings… Purchase combo tickets. If you must visit the theme parks, you can save several hundred dollars by investing in Flex Tickets that grant you entry to five or six parks -- including Universal Studios and SeaWorld -- for a little more than you'd spend on one individual entry.
Late summer and early fall is a great time to visit the Windy City: The summer tourists are trickling out and the notorious Midwestern winter has yet to hit. According to Hotwire's Year-Over-Year analysis, Chicago's hotel rates have dropped nine percent since this time last year. And since Virgin America began air service to the city in May, airfare is experiencing a drop as well (prices fell eight percent since last summer). Plus, as the warm-weather convention season comes to a close, Chicago will boast great deals for leisure travelers.
For more savings… Invest in a Chicago CityPass or a Go Chicago Card. Both of these programs provide significant discounts on admission to some of the city's top things to do, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum.
Eastern Mexico is entering its annual tourism slump; most tourists are deterred by high temperatures and frequent rainfall. However, travelers who visit in August and early September can skirt the sprinkles while nabbing excellent deals to some of the country's most popular destinations, including Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. According to Hotwire, hotel prices have dropped eight percent since 2010, with five-star rooms going for $135 a night, on average. And you can find flights from the U.S. for as low as $250. And to top it all off, you won't have to pay a cent to enjoy this region's miles of soft sand and Caribbean Sea views.
For more savings… Pay with pesos. Although many restaurants and shops in this region accept United States dollars, vendors are more willing to negotiate a lower price with you if you use pesos.
Aspen's reputation as a high-end ski destination means warm-weather travelers can find great discounts. Hotwire's Year-Over-Year analysis shows that average hotel rates have dropped 12 percent since last summer while airfare has experienced a four-percent dip. And the best of the Rockies -- outdoor activities like hiking and biking -- won't cost you a penny. For those of you planning a September trip, make sure to pack your camera: This is when the region's numerous aspen trees don their golden autumn foliage.
For more savings… Opt for a seat at the bar rather than a table in the restaurant. Many restaurants in Aspen offer discounted lunch and dinner menus at the bar. Sure, the choices may be more limited than in the dining room, but it's all coming from the same kitchen.
Like Orlando, Phoenix is frequently listed on Hotwire's Travel Value Index due to its consistently low summer and fall rates. Tourists generally steer clear during these months, frightened away by the Valley of the Sun's triple-digit temps. But air conditioning is never hard to find, and September will bring about more temperate weather. While this year's hotel prices mimic last year's -- averaging $55 a night -- plane tickets have experienced a six-percent drop over the past 12 months. But the deals won't last long; Phoenix is quickly approaching its high-season, preparing to welcome cold-weather escapists.
For more savings… Fill the tank before you leave town. If you're relying on a car as your primary means of transportation, you'll find that gas is cheapest in Phoenix proper than it is in less-central areas like Scottsdale and Glendale.
The increasing strength of the Canadian dollar has prompted our northern neighbors to travel abroad more often than they did before. This developing trend has driven hotel prices down in Canadian cities like Victoria. In fact, Hotwire's Year-Over-Year analysis shows that room rates in the British Columbia city are down 10 percent since last summer. But bargains aren't the only reason Victoria makes our list: The city boasts expansive beaches, massive parks and a lively central square, all of which are free to explore.
For more savings… Avoid the currency exchange office. Victoria businesses accept most major credit and debit cards, meaning that you can avoid the cost of exchanging money. It's a good idea to have some cash on you, but you can simply use an ATM to withdraw.
The Big Peach is known for having some of the best discounts around. And although the summer and early fall are prime times for business and group travel, many hotels still boast remarkably low prices. While there hasn't been a significant decrease in room rates since last year, a night in Atlanta costs only $62 on average. Airfare, however, has dropped a significant seven percent over the past 12 months. Plus, some of the city's most popular sites -- including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Piedmont Park -- are completely free to visit.
For more savings… Consider the Atlanta CityPass. Although it may seem like a lot of money, this pass allows access to five of the city's pricier things to do, including the World of Coca Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.
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